Friday, 21 April 2017
REVIEW: THE ZOOKEEPERS WIFE
She Brought A Zoo.
126 Mins. Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Michael McElhatton & Daniel Bruhl. Director: Niki Caro.
Lions, tigers and bears. Oh my! This is 'The Zookeepers Wife'. Jessica Chastain's study of zoology. But save your 'Dr. Zoolittle' or 'Jessica Rabbit' pathetic puns. Because one of the leading actresses in the world today, the Academy Award nominated Jessica Chastain is getting real serious here and with her compelling career. This isn't no 'Zookeeper', Kevin James crass comedy. Or a light, 'We Brought A Zoo' feel-good flick. But something which we're amazed didn't garner at least an Oscar nomination for a woman whose work in 'Miss Sloane' should have also been honoured, as she would have gone up against herself aswell as Emma Stone and 'Jackie's' Natalie Portman. All we can say is we can't wait for 'Mollys Game' from 'The Help' and 'Zero Dark Thirty' actress who right now is on the form of her life. What more could you expect from a woman of great power and variety (and we aren't just talking about the New York publications feature)? One who is leading a revolt and a revolution to close the so behind the times it should have been removed way back when in Hollywoodland like the rest of that sign that became iconic once it changed (see?!) gender pay gap? One of our best actors (do we really need to distiguish?) that recently turned down a major role because her male co-star of equal billing was getting more zeroes for the same invested work (our money is on it being some sort of superhero movie for this heroine). Sure the actress who has starred alongside the leading likes of McConaughey (the incredible 'Interstellar'), Damon (the Mars mesmerizing 'The Martian'), Pitt (the otherworldy, outstanding 'Tree Of Life' origins...which she was in more) and Isaac (the major 2015 calender best, 'A Most Violent Year') is in the privilege position of being a millionaire who gets to act in parts she picks and wants to play for a living. But don't get it confused! With all due respect, like a Suffragette (she should have been in that movie with fellow icons Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep) for the rich and famous she's doing this for others too. All the young up and coming actresses who can't catch a break unless they are pigeon-holed into a sometimes sexual stereotype in this la la industry lands look at a world that in reality is full of characters as complex and collectively different as a round hole. But Jessica is willing to show us the square peg and not get in where she fits in (or some other tired cliche), but instead change the mould. Unlocking and breaking down the barriers of Diane Ackerman's book and real life story of Polish Zookeeper Antonia Zabinski who in a 1939 war-torn Warsaw saved the lives of around 300 Jewish people by hiding them from Hitler's Nazis in her zoo in World War 2.
Played with hope in the face of harrowing heartbreak like Oscar winning Adrian Brody's 'Pianist', to the book like Speilberg's 'Schindlers List', Chastain is gold as the amazing Antonia, playing the piano perfectly like in her creepy 'Crimson Peak' as a warning my day and a safe to come out now song by night. A monumental woman of history, Zabinski's story is one of many real-life inspirations from World War 2 that go largely untold to the masses. Much like the art saving old troops of 'The Monuments Men' that George Clooney and his Oceans of Matt Damon and Bill Murray and John Goodman, restored to underrated brilliance two years back. What Antonia and her zookeping husband Jan Zabinski did in saving so many persecuted Jews goes beyond the power of the sheer number, all the way down to the personal touch they beautifully gave to each person. Treating them like the individuals that they are and not a discriminated people based on their faith that the evil Nazis did...the darkest time in human history that still beggars belief. But even out of the bleakest time comes light and shining it on this story, 'The Moon By Whale Light' novel writer and poet Diane Ackerman and 'Whale Rider' director Niki Caro scream it from every rooftop many decades later for everyone willing to hear and learn about a story from history that teaches us yet again how to be today in a world needing more inspiration and less influence from the ignorant. Ingrained into our collective consciousness no matter how lacking of luster we are in a spiritually stunted modern world of discrimination still rampant across the borders by a captivating performance by Chastain. This the vegan actresses passion project as she describes a trust that lies in the eyes of animals that runs deeper than humans. As she rides around her zoo and all its inhabitants on her biycycle to start the day and film. With a polished Polish accent and the sincerity of this sweet lady showing unfathomable strength behind the shyness. Just like when she nurses a baby elephant calf back to health with the trunk of her protective mother bearing down. Facing up to abhorrent, bullying soldiers of inhumane evil, bravely in the wake of them torturing and cruelly killing not only her people, but the beautiful animals of her zoo too in some of the most horrific moments you'll avert your eyes from on screen.
Keeping and protecing jews under Nazi hiding lock and key is reminscent of the under the floorboards, terrifyingly tense, extended opening scene of Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglorious Basterds'. Done with much more dignity from the ketchup and spaghetti western director and his German, Oscar winning muse Christophe Waltz. And here his breakout Berlin star Daniel Bruhl is back in Nazi uniform again like this great actor really wants us to hate us. Coming off playing the unmasked Baron Zemo villain and Captain America's 'Civil War' with Iron Man orchestrata, alongside 'Thor' Chris Hemsworth's James Hunt nemesis Niki Lauda in Ron Howard's Formula 1 'Rush'. This recognisable face grows a terrible third reich 'tache and brutually buries any characterized confliction with conviction. It takes a truly remarkable actor to play someone so far gone evil, but Bruhl does it brilliantly with every emotion and doesn't play into the hands of uniformed cliche character fodder. On the right side of a revolt however we can't talk about 'The Zookeepers Wife' without honouring the husband himself. And 'Moscow, Belgium' actor Johan Heldenbergh plays Jan Zabinski with understated brilliance. Fighting for freedom and family in the forlorn face of unspeakable, insurmountable odds. One scene where he rescues a innocent child from the most horrific experience tears at every heartstring and remains the rawest emotional scene of a film full of tragedy at every turn (from brutal bombings to the subtely of the mistaken beauty of ash falling like snow). All until he helps arms open children onto a train, offering them some semblance of hope so they won't know the horrific end to the line that's coming. It almost sounds and seems crazy but it's all the man that did everything to save could do to ease a pain he couldn't protect. Now tell me that isn't a hero! Just like every common man and woman that strived and survived this war. Like the zoo worker that 'Game Of Thrones' actor Michael McElhatton captures with the genuine spirit of a sweet soul. Everyone from page to screen here is note perfect in retelling this story again and again with every moment of horror and heart unturned. It's the nature of nurturing the nicer stories of inspiration and humanity that came from a raw war utterly devoid of such. And in a year where best of British director Christopher Nolan is going to take us right into the sand of the beaches of 'Dunkirk' with Tom Hardy, his 'Interstellar' actress and the aformentioned actors 'Lawless' co-star shows us wars aren't just won by our best and brave soldiers...but everyday heroes that extend an unclenched hand too. And the actor that played the women that lead the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden and her help here may just be our leads leading picture in a formidable filmography.When it comes to Jessica Chastain's character chasing away Nazis she brings so much to this revolutionary role. And with Diane Ackerman's novel idea in mind, it's Antonia Zabinski's incredible, inspiring true story and legacy that will always keep. TIM DAVID HARVEY.
See This If You Liked: 'The Help', 'We Brought A Zoo', 'Monuments Men'.